Virginia will be the place to test next generation technology on some of the fastest, most advanced open software mobile wireless networks in North America, thanks to a new collaboration between the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) and European-based Software Radio Systems Ltd (SRS).

“These mobile wireless networks connect everything from smartphones to the sensors on autonomous vehicles and have become part of our daily lives,” said Luiz DaSilva, CCI executive director. “We need secure, reliable mobile networks and applications to help transform manufacturing, transportation, delivery systems, and more. The CCI SRS collaboration will help Virginia lead the way.” 

Funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia, CCI brings together 41 higher education institutions and more than 300 researchers in Virginia to focus on research, workforce development, and innovation at the intersection of security, autonomous systems, and intelligence. SRS is a well-known leader in performant, open software for mobile wireless networks. A European Union company headquartered in Ireland, SRS serves customers throughout Europe and the United States. 

The new U.S.-based CCI SRS Lab will be part of the CCI xG Testbed at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia. The CCI SRS Lab will showcase and demonstrate the latest SRS software advancements for both 5G—the current fastest network—and NextG, which promises to be faster yet, embedding artificial intelligence in the management of the network and enabling a new generation of mission-critical applications. In addition, researchers and industry partners can test out fresh ideas and gear on the testbed. 

“The CCI SRS Lab will offer researchers and industry partners the ability to keep to the forefront of 5G and NextG advancements,” said Paul Sutton, SRS CEO. “As a company that builds performance, open and customizable 5G radio solutions designed for real-world deployment, we look forward to working with CCI to see our software tested to the limits in new and exciting ways.”

Open source software is at the core of these fast, secure networks and applications. In contrast to proprietary or “black box” technology, open source offers programming versatility and multiple providers. Academic researchers aren’t the only ones who are using open source software—the Department of Defense is looking at using more open source technology, DaSilva noted. 

Open source also underpins the CCI xG Testbed, which has combined CCI’s 5G and AI Assurance testbed to better address future capabilities. 

“Using open source on the testbed was a deliberate decision on our part,” Da Silva said. “We need technology that our researchers can pull apart, break, and put back together and that is not yet commercially available. We’re pushing the envelope at CCI to move toward the next generation of network technologies.”

Work is underway

The CCI xG Testbed team is deploying what is likely to become the largest indoor software-defined radio (SDR) network testbed in the U.S. based on the Open Access Radio Network (0-RAN). These radio networks are small and powerful, thanks to traditional radio duties shifting from bulky hardware to software. 

The testbed will comprise 72 radio nodes, which are about the size of a notebook and installed on a ceiling rack at CCI’s headquarters. It will be one of the first such SDR networks to support native artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. What researchers learn from using this mobile network could be used to ensure sensors on cars, manufacturing equipment, and more stay connected and secure. 

The CCI xG Testbed is collaborating with SRS to prototype a software-defined base station used to test potential vulnerabilities in 5G and to develop approaches to mitigate attacks from so-called “false” base stations. In the past, the base stations that control radio communications were unwieldy hardware. Today’s base stations are streamlined affairs that can fit into a backpack or smaller because software handles the duties once done by hardware. 

In another project, CCI and Virginia Tech researchers are collaborating to design an outdoors private network in licensed Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum to support operations such as flood monitoring and also to serve as a testbed to demonstrate emerging technologies. 

“I have worked with the founders and many of the developers in SRS since before the company was formed,” DaSilva added. “It is very rewarding to witness their success and to be able to launch the CCI SRS Lab, solidifying our partnership to work on the next generation of mobile networks."

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